Hapoel Holon punched their ticket to the Balkan League final after disposing Hapoel Gilboa Galil 81-77 in a close battle that went all the way down to the wire. Stefanos Dedas’s squad jumped up to an early double digit lead as Isaiah Miles, Chris Johnson and CJ Harris all scored early but Iftach Ziv and Joe Thomasson pulled Avishay Gordon’s crew ahead by the end of the third quarter. However, the same Holon trio along with Guy Pnini found points from the outside and the line to snatch the 4-point victory to advance to Thursday’s championship game against Plovdiv.
Isaiah Miles led Holon with 18 points and 9 rebounds, Chris Johnson added 17 points and CJ Harris chipped in with 14 points in the win. Iftach Ziv was the game’s high scorer with 25 points and Jehyve Floyd scored 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
Hapoel Holon got the first quarter off to a fast start with as Isaiah Miles scored from deep while Chris Johnson and CJ Harris also found points as Iftach Ziv, Jehyve Floyd and Kerry Blackshear tried to keep Hapoel Gilboa Galil close but fell behind 27-18 after ten minutes of play.
Nate Sestina and Guy Pnini began finding the bottom of the basket in the second quarter for Stefanos Dedas’s squad but Ziv, Joe Thomasson and Isaiah Cousins started to chip away at the Holon lead to bring it down to just 4-points, 43-39. However, Miles with a triple and points by Johnson and Sestina bumped the advantage up to 52-43 at halftime.
Gilboa got to work right away to begin the third quarter as Floyd powered inside while Netanel Artzi, Thomasson and Ziv scored from the outside to give Avishay Gordon’s team their first lead of the game. Tyrus McGee tried to keep Holon in front but a triple by Yotam Hanochi and a Floyd dunk kept Gilboa in the lead 64-60 with ten minutes to go.
With a finals appearance at stake, Harris, Miles and Johnson helped Holon to a 70-69 lead midway through the fourth quarter with points and defense. Pnini went in for a layup and drained a 3-pointer, Miles added a corner 3-ball and McGee scored three free throws to seal the 4-point win to advance to the Balkan League finals where they will face Plovdiv on Thursday.
THE RIGHT FIT
It’s been a lot of fun to watch Nate Sestina play for Holon over the past 6 weeks as he’s fit in really nicely into Stefanos Dedas’s offense. The forward played under John Calipari last season at Kentucky as a graduate transfer after spending four years at Bucknell and joined the purples for the balance of the season to give the club some depth. With 9 points and a high IQ on the court, it’s clear that Sestina is a true winner and one that has been a very welcome addition. “I chose to bring him in because he is a big man with my philosophy. He can go to the basket and I chose a rookie so if I have to choose the lineup I can rest him, if someone is a rookie I can sit him. The half court foul that he incurred will be a learning experience. I have been aggressive with him and want him do what he does best. He helps us and we help him.”
Sestina also spoke about how he feels he has jelled in with the team, “It’s great being a young guy I come in with a lot of energy and effort coming off the bench. I come in with the same effort as the starters. Effort and hustle, I hope to continue to make an impact on the court.” With the opportunity to take a championship in his first as a pro, Sestina is definitely up for the challenge, “It’s huge and championships are everything. It’s something to add to the resume and the fans were amazing. I’m looking forward to the game on Thursday.” As for facing an opponent for the third time, the Pennsylvania native knows what will be needed to take hoist the trophy, “It’s hard to beat a team three times and I learned that in college. Lock in on film and mentally be ready. If we come out and play with the same energy and effort we should bring in another victory.”
WE WANT THE CUP
As for the game itself, coach Dedas lamented the fact that he handed Maccabi Tel Aviv two cups this year and he wants to make sure that Holon takes the one coming up against Plovdiv on Thursday, “We know it was going to be a tough game and every game was close. They tried with their bigs and we spread the floor with our style and that overcame their super athleticism and size. I thought we gifted two trophies to Maccabi and I told the guys we can’t leave this opportunity despite our fatigue. I want a full gym and have the fans here for a good game and good moment. We will fight and not underestimate our opponent.”
Gilboa Coach Avishay Gordon reflected on the defeat, “The atmosphere was great and to see the fans brought back a lot of memories. I knew it would be a close game and the small things decided the game. I am very proud to be the coach of this team and to work with a player like Iftach who is having a great season. I have to give it to Holon who are a very good team and we have to know how to lose as well. Iftach Ziv also spoke about the game that was, “It’s very disappointing and the entire game I felt we were chasing after them and the fouls took us out of our game. Unfortunately, we gave them a lot of gifts and there were some tough whistles. Now we have to get ready for the championship playoffs.”